How to monitor remote workers without invading their privacy

Is it possible for companies to monitor their remote workers without compromising the privacy of their employees? That’s a question I’ve heard many of my business colleagues ask during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Because many, if not most, companies have suddenly had the necessity of moving their workers out of the office to ensure their safety. And not used to not being able to keep their watchful eyes fixed on their employees, many if not most managers have been anxiously seeking out remote worker monitoring solutions that they can use to keep their employees accountable by monitoring their productivity — but without adding the extra stress or legal implications of invading the personal privacy of employees working from home.

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Dror Leshem, the CEO of Softwatch Technologies, has some definite thoughts on this subject as his company offers solutions in this area. Dror is a seasoned high-tech executive with more than 20 years of experience. As an entrepreneur and professional executive, Dror’s experience includes being a founder and partner of various startups, executive positions in leading corporations, and the CEO position at Softwatch for the past two years. So, wanting to know more about this subject, I reached out to Dror recently and asked a bunch of questions that I’m sure many of our TechGenix readers have also been asking themselves.

I began by asking him why companies insist on trying to monitor the activities of their employees when they work remotely from their homes. “Employers and IT departments,” he replied, “have always kept tabs on their employees’ cyber-activities in the office in order to figure out how to help them improve their work experience, help with their productivity or measure their achievements. Yet when it comes to remote work in these unprecedented pandemic times, managers have to adjust to a new normal without the ability to check-in in person.” He continued by saying, “Furthermore, as companies adapt to the new environment, they come up with new services and offerings. In order to measure the success of such services, they need to measure the ‘before and after’ effect on the employees by comparing the usage of the relevant applications, usage type, and other parameters. We at Softwatch are confident that employee monitoring should allow a business to track employee work-related activities only and monitor worker engagement with workplace-related tasks wherever he or she might be working — remotely or from the office.”

Monitor remote workers without being invasive

I asked him next what some of the more invasive ways that companies try to do this were and how workers usually feel about such monitoring. “From what we’ve learned,” says Dror, “some companies use ‘tattleware,’ and others mandate always-on webcam rules and require multiple daily check-ins to track employee work hours. Tracking what employees are typing, capturing screenshots, monitoring all activities, including those that are personal, are examples of such invasiveness. There have been studies and reports since the pandemic started that remote workers are experiencing higher stress levels and exhaustion as they feel they are being very closely watched by their managers. We at Softwatch totally understand and respect that, therefore, we do not support any of such invasive activities.”

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My next question was: Is it really possible to monitor remote workers while protecting their privacy? I also asked him to explain how Softwatch’s product does this. “Softwatch Remote Productivity Monitoring, or RPM for short, does not review everything an employee does throughout the day. Instead, it collects and analyzes the time workers spend on a preselected collection of only relevant enterprise applications so managers can monitor usage and also obtain initial insights on potential rightsizing opportunities for such applications.

There have been studies and reports since the pandemic started that remote workers are experiencing higher stress levels and exhaustion as they feel they are being very closely watched by their managers.

“Our focus is on work productivity, so we are looking at those applications that are relevant to specific customers. We work with them to define those applications, and those applications can be any offline, online, hybrid, and home-developed ones. Then we analyze the usage again while respecting the employees’ privacy and customers’ confidentiality. The platform analyzes keyboard activities, mouse movements, and additional functions, allowing the technology to determine the scope of usage, such as whether people are working on the applications, doing editing work, or if they are just reading content, and much more.

“Softwatch only monitors the applications enterprises select, not everything. If someone goes to Facebook or looks up any other information, the solution does not record that. The company is only checking on the applications that matter most to them and ignoring the rest.”

The wow effect

That sounded like a good approach for doing remote employee monitoring, so I asked him what kind of response he has been getting from companies (both management and employees) to this kind of monitoring approach. Dror replied, “As we began to work with RPM, we started getting feedback from our customers. It had a great wow effect; it totally opened a new avenue for Softwatch. Our experience in the enterprise world, patented technology, and respect for privacy and confidentiality are appreciated and praised by our customers.”

Everyone is talking about COVID-19, the crisis ending, and now employees moving back to their offices. However, work from home is something that is here to stay. In fact, we are going to have a dual environment: home and office.

I asked Dror if he had any final thoughts on the best ways to monitor remote workers. “Everyone is talking about COVID-19, the crisis ending, and now employees moving back to their offices,” says Dror. “However, work from home is something that is here to stay. In fact, we are going to have a dual environment: home and office. By using the Softwatch usage technology and the Remote Productivity Monitoring, companies gain deep insights into what their employees are doing with their time. The aggregation of the RPM with the various modules Softwatch offers such as License projection in order to optimize IT costs, Chromebook Adoption Readiness (to validate the readiness of the organization to adopt Chrome devices), analysis of offline applications (to determine the necessity of the application and exploring changing them with online applications and more), create a unique and well-rounded baseline for preparing companies to the post-COVID 19 scenarios.”

Featured image: Shutterstock

1 thought on “How to monitor remote workers without invading their privacy”

  1. Limiting what is monitored is definitely an important step in respecting the privacy of remote workers.

    I’d also include:

    – Not installing monitoring agents on personal devices.

    Even with scheduled monitoring features and other limiters there’s likely to be concerns about what could be monitored. This is especially true for remote workers with flexible schedules where limiting monitoring based on time of day isn’t feasible.

    – Respect proportionality.

    GDPR’s focus on proportionality (balancing privacy impacts vs legitimate business needs) is a big win in my book. Collecting more data than necessary and using overly invasive monitoring methods (the webcams Dror mentioned, keystroke logging, etc) is a surefire way to seriously damaging employee morale.

    I’ve written more about this topic – feel free to check it out and let me know what you think.

    https://www.currentware.com/how-to-monitor-remote-workers/

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